Parramatta, New South Wales

This week, two business groups made the case for a democratically-elected Lord Mayor of Parramatta – an equivalent to City of Sydney’s popular Clover Moore – to lead the critical region through a period of rapid growth and transformation.

The Committee for Sydney and Western Sydney Business Chamber have jointly released a report calling for the creation of a new Act – the City of Parramatta 2020 Act – which would see a directly elected Lord Mayor installed among other proposed governance changes.

The two groups are also calling for a “depoliticised” hiring process for the Parramatta chief executive office, the abolishment of wards in the Parramatta region, and a bolstered pay packet for both mayors and councillors to reflect the reclassification of Parramatta as a key metropolitan centre.

The backdrop of the report includes governance controversies where the resumes of a CEO didn’t quite check out. Author of the report, Committee for Sydney deputy CEO and director of policy Eamon Waterford, says that these governance problems are now behind the organisation, with more than capable candidates currently in both leadership roles.

He said the recommendations are not about fixing an immediate problem but about cementing Paramatta’s place as Sydney’s second CBD.

“The council is on the cusp of taking the central city to the next level and it won’t want to be held back by treating Paramatta by like any old council.”

While the grand plans for Sydney’s western region wobbled momentarily as doubts were cast over forecasted population growth due to the pandemic, confidence in the region appears to have returned with major infrastructure projects set to go ahead.

Notable is the Western Sydney Airport metro project, with the federal government going halves with the NSW government in a $3.5 billion investment.

What’s being proposed?

The notion of a popularly-elected mayor is key, with the existing arrangement common in Greater Sydney where following an election, the mayor is selected by the councillors from among themselves for two years.

While not without its merits – a short two-year cycle ensures that the mayor does not stray too far from the majority view of the council, by way of example – Mr Waterford said that from his research, the popularly-elected four-year term model tends to work better, especially for a strategically significant place like Paramatta that needs a consistent leader to deliver long-term planning and decision making.

David Borger, executive director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber, said that it’s long overdue to empower the residents of Sydney’s central city of Parramatta with the election of their Lord Mayor.

“It’s time to end the deals behind closed doors or the luck of the draw out of a hat to decide who is going to lead the council every two years.”

Abolishing the wards is also designed to keep the region tracking in a cohesive direction, helping to “reduce the relative electoral influence of very NIMBY groups which are motivated by current localised interests,” the report stated.

Mr Waterford said that although the notion of a popularly-elected mayor and other governance reforms have been on the table for some time, what’s novel about the two group’s proposals is how it will be done.

With the creation of a new City of Parramatta 2020 Act, the process would be fast-tracked. Otherwise, to make these changes there will need to be a referendum of the population at the next election, meaning “nothing will happen for five years.”

The timing is important given the West Metro, Light Rail, the Powerhouse relocation and many other major urban renewal projects are all scheduled to get underway well before then, as Mr Waterford said.

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  1. Popularly elected mayors were recommended in a local government review commissoned by the NSW Government some years back. The issue of council amalgamations was only one of the recommendations but it sucked up all the attention. Many of the others including mandating popularly elected mayors never really gained traction.

    Unfortunately, some councils have gone backwards and reverted to having the mayor decided by the councillors. That has happened in my council.

    So the community has lost the opportunity to directly elect their mayor. I fear it will be many years, if ever, before we get that opportunity back.